Tuesday, November 16 2021

Dive In


The Supreme Court collegium in its meeting held on 11th November, 2021, has approved the proposal for elevation of Shri Saurabh Kirpal, advocate, as judge in the Delhi High Court.

That’s the resolution passed yesterday by the Supreme Court collegium—making legal history, and marking a big step for LGBTQ+ rights. Kirpal will be the first openly gay High Court judge. His appointment has been in limbo since 2018—with the government objecting four times to his nomination. Its objection: his partner is a Swiss human rights activist and therefore a security risk. India Today has a summary of Kirpal’s life history and career arc.

Big Story

A campaign for a meat-mukt Bharat?

Editor’s note: Our big story today is free to read. So if you liked it be sure to share the link widely—and be sure to say something nice about splainer if you can:) 


The TLDR: Ahmedabad became the latest city to clamp down on stalls and roadside vendors selling meat. It is part of a growing and often violent movement based on the assumption that meat offends Hindu sentiments. But who eats meat in India? And who sells it? Turns out, neither answer has anything to do with religion per se.


Researched by: Sara Varghese


The escalating war on meat sellers

The Hindutva rightwing has long been hostile to eating or selling meat. But in recent years, that hostility has turned into demands for outright bans:


  • Ahmedabad issued an outright ban on meat-selling carts in public places yesterday. The reason: “There were public complaints of bad smell especially from morning walkers, residents visiting religious places and parents as these were leaving negative impact on minds of young children.”
  • Last week, Vadodara banned all “public displays” of meat in stalls and restaurants. The reason: “It has to do with our religious sentiments…The non-vegetarian food should not be seen.”
  • In Delhi, a member of a Hindutva group forced a biryani seller to shut shop, saying: “Don't you know that today is a festival for Hindus, today is Diwali... Is this Jama Masjid? Total Hindus live here.”
  • The pattern was the same during Navratri in Gurgaon, Faridabad and other parts of the city.
  • In October, a Muslim chicken shop was vandalised in Karnataka—on a day when a local temple was scheduled to open.
  • In March, Gurgaon imposed a new rule ordering meat shops to close on Tuesdays—a day when many North Indian Hindus often abstain from eating non-vegetarian food. 


Point to note: Most small-sized meat shops, carts and stalls are owned and operated by Muslims and lower caste Hindus. And most of the media reports indicate recent attacks have specifically targeted Muslim-owned businesses.


So who eats meat in India?

What the data tells us: 

  • A Pew survey released in July showed that 39% of Indians call themselves vegetarian—including 44% of Hindus. 
  • A 2018 analysis put the number of vegetarians at only 20%—and claimed that only a third of privileged, upper-caste Indians are vegetarian. 
  • Also this: According to an older 2011 survey, only 40% of Muslims eat beef, compared to 26.5% of Christians and 2% of Hindus.
  • And this: “The government data shows that vegetarian households have higher income and consumption—are more affluent than meat-eating households. The lower castes, Dalits (formerly known as untouchables) and tribes-people are mainly meat eaters.”
  • FYI: The most authoritative data is much older—based on a mammoth eight-year study. The Anthropological Survey of India (ASI) completed in 1993 “covered every rite, custom and habit of every single community in the country.” It found that nearly 88% were meat-eaters.


Point to note: Most experts agree that survey data on meat consumption in India tends to underestimate meat consumption because it depends on self-reporting. For example, the number of Hindus who admitted to eating beef went down in national surveys between 1999 and 2012. But that may be because of cultural stigma as beef is increasingly “caught in cultural political and group identity struggles in India.” 


Hence, equally important: The Pew survey also found that consumption of meat is deeply connected to religious identity. Example: 72% of Hindus believed that one cannot be Hindu if they eat beef—mirrored by 77% of Muslims who said a person cannot be Muslim if they eat pork. This would also explain why many people don’t report eating meat—or certain kinds of meat. 


Meat and money: Even though meat-eating is associated with lower castes, Down To Earth notes, “Eating large quantities of meat has become a sign of affluence, modernity and a ‘right’ of consumer choice.” And it is one reason why chicken consumption has risen “phenomenally” in recent years. Poultry is simply cheaper. Also fueling the rise: a demographic shift toward youth who in turn have spawned a fast food culture.


Who sells meat in India?

The campaign against meat sellers has focused entirely on hole-in-the-wall restaurants, stalls and streetside vendors. And that double standard is in plain view in Gurgaon—which has imposed the meatless Tuesday rule. While the small shops were forced to close down once a week, restaurants and online meat shops are free to operate. And premium stores like Foodhall continue to sell raw meat. A small corner shop owner says:


“In the past few days, my shop was first shut for Holi and then again on Tuesday because of the ban. Even our most loyal of customers have had to order from online stores. We are losing customers to big online companies like BigBasket and Licious.”


The ‘good’ meat seller: is the hot startup catering to an affluent Indian middle class—many of which are owned by well-educated, upper class Hindus. Examples: Zappfresh, Licious, Meatigo and FreshtoHome. For them, the “unorganised meat market”—run by the small vendors—is a huge opportunity. Point to note: 90% of the meat market is completely unorganized. 


The ‘good’ meat exporter: For all the hue and cry over saving the cow, India’s beef exports have been rising steadily. The only blip was caused by the pandemic—but due to drastic decline in demand from Vietnam. Also: here are the names of four of the top six meat exporters in the country: Al Kabeer Exports Pvt. Ltd (owners Satish and Atul Sabharwal), Arabian Exports Pvt. Ltd (owner Sunil Kapoor), MKR Frozen Food Exports (owner Madan Abbott), PML Industries (owner AS Bindra).


Ironic point to note: The founder of an online meat delivery company made it plain that his sales hardly suffer during festivals like Navratri. But the Muslim owner of iD Fresh Food was targeted by Hindutva groups—falsely claiming he was adding animal remains to the company’s shuddh vegetarian, ready-to-eat idli and dosai batter.  


The bigger picture: Some argue that class is deeply intertwined with religion in these attacks on small-sized vendors. Less affluent Muslims are being targeted whether they sell bangles, dosas, fruit or meat—and that poses a grave threat to the community. Nearly 46% of Muslims are self-employed in urban India—and most are not affluent. As one sociologist points out:


“These attacks are sure to make the economic situation of Muslim hawkers more precarious. It is an effort to create terror and insecurity in the minds of Muslims and restrict their free movement. Now an average Muslim trader will have to think twice before venturing into a Hindu locality. Such restrictions will only mean that their businesses will suffer.”


The other double standard: Much of the government’s public stance on the anti-meat/beef campaign often depends on electoral politics. As The Diplomat points out, back in 2016, PM Modi condemned cow-lynching only when the incidents involved Dalits—willing to earn the displeasure of Hindutva groups. Again, the BJP put the ban on cow slaughter in its election manifesto in Tamil Nadu but not in Kerala. The reason: Even though there are more beef-eaters in TN, the meat is a core part of the Malayali cuisine and cultural identity. 


The bottomline: Let’s all agree on at least one thing: This isn’t about meat at all.


Reading list

  • If you’re looking for data on meat consumption in India, check out the Pew survey, BBC News and Mint
  • Down To Earth looks at meat consumption as a symbol of greater affluence.
  • Al Jazeera has a very good report on recent attacks on the livelihoods of Muslim vendors.
  • Humra Quraishi in National Herald dissects the Muslim=meat stereotype—while Sohini Chattopadhyay in New York Times looks at how Bollywood stereotypes the meat-eating Muslim.
  • In this Quartz interview, Kancha Ilaiah takes on the myth that Hindus have a problem with beef—while Vir Sanghvi in Hindustan Times decodes the biryani vs khichri wars. For more context on the biryani debate, check out New Frame.
  • The Wire explains why it is more expensive to be vegetarian when you are very poor—and why campaigns driven by Western discourse around meat are no good for Indians.
  • Scroll has a great historical read on the debate over cow slaughter during the framing of the Constitution.


Headlines that matter

Indian kings that matter

These days, various political parties and leaders are busy rewriting Indian history—especially the contribution of specific rulers. The Mughals have long been dismissed as mere invaders. But the rhetoric has taken an even more bizarre turn these days. Now, it’s the turn of Ashoka to get a drubbing—from an RSS-backed magazine. His great crimes: embracing Buddhism and ahimsa—which opened up our borders to foreign invasions:


“[H]e turned the entire empire into a giant monastery for promoting Buddhism. It was because of the Buddhist leaders of Magadha that Greek invaders returned to conquer India…Buddhist monks propagated seditious, senseless, anti-India ideas among their disciples that Buddhism did not believe in caste or nation. Whenever foreign invaders sympathetic to Buddhism attacked India, these Buddhists colluded with them, instead of fighting them bravely.”

The first Asian American muppet

Ji-Young is making history as the first Asian American muppet on Sesame Street. She will make her debut on a Thanksgiving special starring the likes of Padma Lakshmi and Naomi Osaka. Check her out in the Associated Press report here.



In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • Spandita Malik’s stunning embroidered photography project


A list of intriguing things

  • The hottest trend in concept car design: reviving old models as electric vehicles
  • Traditional carpets reworked into fantastical pieces of art
  • A roundup of the most expensive architectural disasters
  • The magical dragon tree that is found on the Canary Islands

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